My name is Modibo Diarra. In 1981 I had the honor of being the first person to be baptized a member of the Church in my native land of Mali. It is hard to believe how much my life has changed since then, and that it all happened because my dog was sick!
Mali is in northwestern Africa. The climate is hot, dry, and dusty. Although the official language is French, many people speak Bambara, a local language. Most are Moslems. Our capital, Bamako, is a medium-sized city on the Niger River. Here our family lives in typical Malian style.
Our home consists of four square walls surrounding a large open courtyard. Small rooms open onto the yard, where the shade of a tall tree is used for family gatherings. Against one wall are pens for chickens and rabbits, and a goat wanders freely, seeking food.
One day, my dog got sick, and I thought it might be a case of rabies. At that time I was a school teacher, and one of my students told me about an American veterinarian, Dr. Jerry Zaugg, who was working in Mali. I arranged for Dr. Zaugg to come to our house and asked my wife to prepare tea for him, as is the custom here. But our guest declined to drink the tea. He said it was contrary to the teachings of his church. That interested me, and I asked him many questions.
Several good things came from that visit. First, I learned that my dog did not have rabies. But, more importantly, Dr. Zaugg asked me to tutor him in French. I agreed to do so, and after each of our French lessons, Dr. Zaugg would tell me about his church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He invited me to attend Church services with two American families who were meeting in a house. The meetings were in English, which I did not speak well then, but the Church members gave me books in French: the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and A Marvelous Work and a Wonder. The Spirit was beautiful and strong, and eventually I was converted and baptized.
After my conversion, I became a better husband and father. My wife and children could not believe how much I changed. My two oldest boys, Amadou and Gausou, began to ask about the Church and read the Book of Mormon. They were baptized in 1984. Soon they were inviting other young people to see Church films and to meet the American members who lived in Mali. We had no official branch, but I kept a history of our sacrament meetings in a green book with the word Record on the cover.
As a Church member, I received many blessings. Then came a period that greatly tried my faith. In February 1988, I lost my job as a teacher and my position as a leader in the teachers’ union. I was thwarted on all sides in my efforts to find work. My life had been dedicated to teaching. How would I now support my wife and six children? And how would I feed the eleven other relatives who, for economic reasons, were living in our home?
Everybody worked hard to bring in money. My wife took in sewing, while Amadou and Gausou used a lathe to make tools to sell. Their younger brother cleaned shoes. Even my mother opened a small business selling spices. Eventually I had to sell the family car, for which we had saved for years. I pleaded with the Lord to help me provide for my family.
During this difficult time, a package arrived from Church officials in Salt Lake City containing a simplified version of Gospel Principles, which had been translated into Bambara. They asked if I would check the translation and then translate twelve hymns. As soon as I began this work, I realized its importance and tried to do it as correctly as possible. I struggled many times to find the right word or expression. Then, at other times, my mind would open in a remarkable way—as though someone were dictating to me. (When I finished the translations, I asked them to keep most of the money they were to pay me. I considered it my tithing.) I continued to pray constantly because of our desperate situation.
Little did I guess what would happen next. In May, I received a letter from an old friend, an American doctor named James Ferwarda. I had met Dr. Ferwarda during his visit to Mali in 1985. At his request, I had accompanied him on a tour of my country. Now, to my great surprise, he was sending me a round-trip airplane ticket and inviting me to visit him at his home in the United States!
I was astonished, overwhelmed at his offer. But it seemed impossible for me to leave my family at this critical time. The Church members urged me to accept the invitation, however. Perhaps, they said, the Lord would open the way for me to go to the temple while I was in the United States. Like many members, I cherished the dream of attending the temple “someday.”
Still dumbfounded, I did go, “not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.” (See 1 Ne. 4:6.) It was incredible that someone who was barely surviving financially could make such an expensive trip. After I arrived in the United States, Dr. Ferwarda learned of my deep desire to attend the temple, which was more than 2,000 kilometers away. Although he was not a member of the Church, he told me, “I respect your opinion, and I will pay for your ticket to Salt Lake City, too.”
I visited the Church offices as soon as I arrived in Salt Lake City. I will never, ever forget that day. Elder Alexander Morrison of the Seventy ordained me an elder. Then I went to the temple and received the endowment. Everyone in the temple was so kind. The beauty and serenity there moved me deeply. I was also impressed by the young missionaries, whom I saw for the first time. Now I knew that I wanted my sons to serve missions.
The next day, I visited the offices of a humanitarian organization that sponsors a number of agricultural and educational projects in Mali. Hoping that they might need my services, I met with several administrators but returned to Mali without a job offer.
Our family’s trial of faith lasted five more months. During that time I was grateful for the temple ordinances, which strengthened me. Nevertheless, I often felt like a man who was drowning in a deep river. Daily I entreated the Lord to deliver us from our economic crisis. Then, in November, the miracle came. The humanitarian organization that I had met with in Salt Lake City sent me a telegram, notifying me that I had been hired as their new field director. I knew without a doubt that only the Lord’s hand had plucked me from the river.
My job is a challenging one, requiring negotiations with government officials, local trainers, and village chiefs. Whenever I begin something that seems impossible, someone is sure to say, “You will never accomplish that!” But I know the Lord has the power to help me. I pray, and things work out somehow. I am still not rich, but I can feed my family and the others who depend on me. And now I am able to travel to Utah on business once a year. During these visits, I go to the temple, and I am sometimes able to attend general conference.
Other things have happened, wonderful things. In 1992 my son Amadou completed his mission to French-speaking Canada. There he helped to teach and baptize many people, including African immigrants and Moslems. Now both he and Gausou are studying in the United States. Gausou, too, wants to serve a mission some day. I pray that he will, and that all the rest of my family will join the Church. I pray that all of my children will be good students and honest citizens.
I look forward to the day when the Church will be organized in Mali. As of this writing, I am the only resident member of the Church here. I sustain myself spiritually by praying in all circumstances and by reading the Book of Mormon. And I still have in my care a worn green book with the word Record on the cover. But in my heart I carry another record. I will remember forever how the Lord has poured out his blessings upon me.